Editorial: Do this exercise to help you choose the best candidate

As voters contemplate which candidates to support in the General Election on Nov. 6, we want to first thank all candidates in Addison County races for answering our series of questions for publication. It’s not easy boiling down one’s thoughts to a 350-to-500-word answer on complicated questions (for state Senate candidates) or 100-word answers on seven questions for House candidates. That effort — on their part and ours — is all to provide our readers and prospective voters with a firm foundation from which to make a more educated decision.
We hope our readers will use that information well, and offer the following exercise as a way to analyze which of the candidates might be best — from each person’s perspective — in each respective race. The choice is particularly tough in the county Senate race where there are six candidates. In that race we will have devoted four weeks of coverage to help residents understand their positions on the issues. We have put those responses up on our website at addisonindependent.com, in an area that is not behind the pay-wall.
We encourage you to pick the topics of most concern to you — from what to do about the decline among our dairy farms to water quality, taxation or education — and compare three things: 1) how well did each candidate answer the question, or dodge it; 2) which candidate used facts and applicable solutions that might make a difference — as opposed to empty or inflammatory rhetoric;  3) which candidate best represents the approach you would like the state to take to resolve the issue. In doing that you’ll also want to outline the fundamental issues to each topic.
As an example, we did that to a limited extent with the first issue:
• What can the state do about the decline of dairy farms and water quality issues in the Lake Champlain basin?
Assessment: The unmistakable trend is that small dairy farms are on the decline in Vermont and larger mega-farms are taking their place. It’s the efficiency of scale, a federal pricing program that exacerbates that problem, and a global marketplace that neither Vermont farmers nor legislators can change. The marketplace will determine the size dairy farms must be to remain sustainable. Vermont policy-makers must adapt to that reality not by trying to help keep smaller farmers in dairy, but by helping all farms diversify and open new markets.
Sen. Chris Bray did just that in 2009 when he helped create the successful Farm-to-Plate initiative. As Bray noted in his response to the question: “In the last 8 years, we have added over 7,700 new jobs, and over $100 million in increased revenue. Today there are actually more farms in the state than a decade ago.” That’s making a positive difference by thinking outside the box and creating something new to help the dairy farmers transition to new endeavors, but still stay in the area and in farming.
Legislators and taxpayers must also note that the state subsidizes farmers to the tune of more than $100 million annually, so pouring more tax dollars into this relatively small job sector in a fight against global forces is not a promising use of public dollars. That said, voters need to understand that dairy is a significant part of the economy. Vermont dairy farmers create about $2.2 billion in economic activity per year, with $385 million of that being created in Addison County.
But the gross revenue from dairy is not yet threatened. It will likely stay the same or grow a little (even with the number of declining dairy farms). Rather, the greatest loss is to our farm families and kids in our schools. The state’s priority must be to find ways to keep those Vermont families here, preferably working the land and creating a comfortable life for themselves. The question voters should ask is: Which candidates would promote farm diversity and find ways to create new sources of revenue for those farms?
Water quality is not a superfluous issue, nor one that should be in conflict with dairy farming. As candidate Marie Audet rightly said: “We need to make products people want to buy in a way that is healthy for the animals, our communities, and the environment. Improving and maintaining water quality is our priority. We need to adhere to ever-changing and increasing regulations. We need to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change…”  In my view, it is also prudent to keep state regulations strict enough to insure a level playing field among competitors, along with creative incentives, rather than penalties, for being in compliance and reducing stream pollution. Which candidates would embrace that premise?
Voters also must watch for candidates who use half-baked truths and misinformation to sow discord and discontent. Are there candidates among these six, who typify the politics of conflict  — the Trump approach — pitting one group against another, provoking anger and disgust under the illusion of a false solution (in this case that getting government out of the equation will solve dairy’s problems.)
Savvy voters will be able to sniff out such shallow answers, snarky one-liners used in answers or in their campaigns, and the use of inflammatory language and terms to spark anger at the opposing side — rather than to seek unity and a common resolution. It is an approach that has worked for Trump, but hopefully it’s not an approach that will work in Addison County.
In the Addison County Senate race, the six candidates — Independent Marie Audet, Democrat Sen. Chris Bray, Republican Peter Briggs, Libertarian Archie Flower, Democrat Ruth Hardy and Independent Paul Ralston — also answered questions on climate change, education, health care and helping make Vermont more affordable.
We encourage you to pull up their answers and compare them with the other candidates. For the most part the answers are thoughtful, you’ll learn of the complexity of the issues and of the different approaches that could be viable — and, by the time you’re done reviewing two or three of the issues most important to you, you’ll find the two candidates who best represent your perspective and what’s best for Vermont.
Admittedly, it’s an effort — you’ll want to do this for the House race, too — but it’s your job as voters to cast an informed vote. Take that task seriously, and the state will rest in good hands.

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